First Week in Kenya: Sawa Sawa

We are finally here in Kenya after many long months of preparation and anticipation. We arrived July 14th at 3 AM. We began our journey July 12th in the evening, departing from Toronto for Vionna and Charlottetown PEI for myself. We endured two red eye flights and many long hours in airport terminals, but the welcome we have received upon arrival very much made up for any discomfort we might have experienced.

We were greeted at the airport by our travel guide, Henry Macharia, who has arranged for all of our transportation needs during the whole of our two and a half month stay. I noted the stark contrast of his silvery curly hair to his dark skin as he took both my hands in greeting and said to me, “Do not look at your watch, night or day, no matter where you are, if you need me I shall come for you.” The warmness of this karibu, or welcome, has been a constant during the whole of our travels so far and I have come to associate Kenyans with firm handshakes and friendship.

We were delayed in Nairobi for the first two days on account of our luggage and medical supplies being held up in Cairo during a very tight connection. It arrived early Wednesday morning, and we were able to head out for the rift valley that same day. At the moment we are staying in Nakuru with Troy and Rebecca Sammons, and their three daughters Dakota, Kate, and Hope. Dakota and Kate are 4 and 2 years, and Hope is just 5 months. They are quite a busy house and have been very kind to keep us for the first week. The drive to Nakuru was overcast, but even so the views around the Ngong mountains (the same from Out of Africa!) as we drove down into the valley were truly spectacular. The mountain roads wound in and around the rock face and the African plains stretched out as far as the eye could see hundreds of feet below. We saw many beautiful acacia forests and, to our extreme delight, baboons, zebras, and gazelles along the roadside. Kenyans seem to enjoy a different sort of relationship with their wildlife than we have in Canada. Where we displace and convert, they seem to overlap and cohabitate in a way that seems very harmonious. And everywhere along the road you see young trees being planted by the Green Belt movement, an NGO started in the early 1908’s by Wangari Mathi who was the first African woman to win the noble peace prize.

Nakuru is a small town, and it’s farms tend to be in the range of 4 to 10 cows, although they may have as many as a thousand which is very large in Kenyan standards. The countryside is full of rolling hills which are still lush and green from the recent rainy season (March to May). All around are the huge mountains of the rift valley, their peaks long and worn compared to the Rockies of North America. The view from the Sammons house overlooks Lake Nakuru which is part of Nakuru National Park. The lake is in the migratory path of many species of birds and is the winter destination for many European species. An interesting phenomenon you can’t help but notice is the roadside farming. Because many small holder farms don’t have enough land to feed their animals, farmers allow their animals to roam free along the roadsides all day long to eat. In the evening they are brought in again. You will see all sorts of domesticated species grazing along the road including: Cattle, Goats (huge massive herds of goats! Hundreds of them!), donkeys, sheep, pigs, and chickens. The farms themselves are small, and in some cases require updating, but they are very charming. Each farm is a little walled in island all unto itself, and everyone has a garden full to bursting with produce. The most common crops are corn, beans, kale, and bananas. Fruit is incredibly prolific, and we have been eating locally grown passion fruit, mangos, and avocado on a daily basis.

We began sampling as soon as we arrived in Nakuru. The field study we are conducting involves us gathering data from small holder dairy farms in the Nakuru and Nyeri areas west of Mt. Kenya . We hope to visit over 100 farms and collect samples from around 700 cattle. So far, we have been to 7 farms and collected data from 44 cattle. The data is a tad convoluted because we are coordinating three separate projects from two masters students, and one PhD from the University of Nairobi. The topics of each study include GI tract parasites, mastitis, and abortion which requires the collections of fecal, milk, and blood samples respectively. The hope is to discover what factors and practices contribute to mastitis, the distribution of GI parasites, and the causes of abortion in Kenyan farms which can be as high as 10% per year in some cases. Some of the factors are stall proportions, grazing techniques, and stall/pen cleanliness. It was a little difficult to organize everyone at first, but we have a very efficient system now and can average about 30 minutes per 4 cow farm. Vionna and I have become masters of the CMT (California Mastitis Test) paddle. The two master’s students are Kabaka and Roiford, and Abuom is the PhD student. They are all great and we have become good friends. It is now Friday and they have gone back to Nairobi for the weekend. We will stay with the Sammons until Sunday at which point we will pack up and head for Ichamara, a small village outside of Nyeri.

That is all for now I think, the next post is Vionna’s, I’ll talk to you guys again in a couple weeks!

Laura